Hi, I’m blind. I may also use the terms visually impaired or legally blind to describe myself. But whatever one I use, they all mean the same thing: I either see nothing at all or my eyesight is so poor that I have difficulty doing things visually. Many of the ideas people have about blindness are inaccurate or completely false. If you’ve never met a blind person before or know very little about blindness, you’re likely to believe some of those ideas, so here’s some accurate information to get you on the right track.
When you read the following, please keep in mind that it may not apply the same way to all blind people. Each one of us is an individual and as such, we each have had different training and experiences, so there’s no one size fits all. If you’re in doubt it’s always best to ask.
- Always remember that I’m the one who’s responsible for my life; nobody else is. Some sighted people think it’s their job to supervise a blind person, and try to take charge of me. I’m perfectly capable of making my own decisions although I may ask for information or assistance from time to time.
- The fact that I may be with a sighted person doesn’t mean he or she is in charge or is there to translate for me. It’s irritating when people try to talk to me through a sighted companion. I speak English just fine, so if there’s something you want to know, please ask me. And you don’t have to speak louder; it’s my eyes, not my ears that don’t work.
- For me, blindness is a fact of life and I hope you’ll come to accept it too. There’s no need for you to worry about finding me a cure; I have competent doctors who’ll tell me if they hear of something that might help. It’s okay to pass on any new information you hear about. My religious beliefs are my own and it makes me uncomfortable when complete strangers want to pray for me to get my sight back.
- Independent travel is something that many blind people learn so when you see me walking down the street with my cane or guide dog, assume that I know where I’m going. If I wait at a corner before crossing, it’s because I’m listening to the traffic so I can tell when to cross. It’s safest if I cross when the light turns green because that gives me the most time to get across. If you don’t know how long the light has been green, please don’t insist that I go.
- If you see me standing at a crosswalk when you’re driving, don’t stop for me if the light is against me. I may assume that it is safe to cross and walk right into the path of a moving car. When I’m crossing in front of you at an intersection, don’t blow your horn if you think my cane is about to touch your front bumper; it will scare the heck out of me. Since I cannot see you, using your horn is a poor way to signal me.
- If I seem to need help, introduce yourself to me and ask me if I need it. If I don’t, I’ll say
No thanks!and go on my way. Don’t feel hurt if I reject your offer of help and insist that I accept it. I appreciated your offer. Just say something like
Okay, have a nice day!and go on your way. Don’t follow me to make sure I get where I’m going as it will feel like I’m being stalked.
- If you’re giving me directions, it doesn’t help to point because I can’t see where you’re pointing. It’s better to offer me verbal directions, ones that are as specific as possible. If you know the names of cross streets and landmarks, that’s always helpful information; if you don’t, I may ask you to read the street signs to me. You’re welcome to ask me for directions; I get around a lot and might have the information you need.
- I might want to walk with you using the sighted guide technique, especially if we’re carrying on a conversation or are in a tight space such as between tables at a restaurant. Or perhaps I’d prefer to walk beside you, determining my position by the sound of your voice; it’s always best to ask. If I use the sighted guide technique, I’ll probably hold onto your elbow and walk about a half step behind you so I can anticipate steps and curbs. Never try to push me ahead of you, since I’ll have no way to tell what’s coming next.
- I may use my cane or guide dog along with the sighted guide technique just to cover my other side and give me additional information. If I’m using a guide dog, always walk on the side of me opposite the dog. Never grab my cane and try to drag me along. I may jerk it out of your hand by reflex, giving you cuts or splinters. And never grab my guide dog; it’s trained to respond only to me.
- If I’m having dinner at your home, you don’t need to do everything by yourself. I’m always glad to help out; it feels strange to sit there while others are doing all the work. And if you’re having dinner at my home, remember that as the host, I’ll let you know if I need help with anything. It’s always okay to ask. If you look at or use any of my things, please put them back where you got them so I don’t have to look for them after you leave.
- You don’t have to redefine the English language just because I’m around. I use words like
seetoo, and using them won’t hurt my feelings one bit. When I greet you, I’ll say,
It’s good to see you!and when you have something I’m interested in, I’ll say,
Let me look at it!Looking at an object has always involved touch as well as sight.
- If you’re accompanying me into an unfamiliar room, I may ask you about its layout. That way we can split up and do whatever we each want to do. If the room is crowded, I might ask for your help finding people or I may just want to circulate on my own. Never grab me and try to push me into a chair or move me to a different place; blind people hate being manhandled all the time.
- If you come up to me while I’m in a group, always say
Hi!” and call me by name so I know you’re talking to me. If you are leaving, say goodbye; it’s just common courtesy. Never play
Can you guess who this is?since I may not know you by your voice, and that would be embarrassing for both of us. I meet a lot of people and can’t remember everyone.
- When I’m getting into your car, I won’t need help opening and closing the door or putting on the seatbelt. I ride in a lot of cars and know where things are. If you see something remarkable while you’re driving it’s okay to mention it, but there’s no need to give me a running commentary. Even though I don’t drive, I get around and may be able to offer you directions if you need them.
- If you’re riding in the front seat of a bus, you don’t have to jump up and run to the back of the bus when I get on or insist that I sit in your seat, although it’s okay to ask if I need it. Blind people aren’t required by law to sit in the front of the bus; the only time you may need to give me your seat is if I ask you to do so. I may want to sit in the back of the bus since it’s easier for me to leave by the back door than it is to try to fight my way through the people coming on, or I may dislike sitting sideways. I appreciate knowing if there’s a vacant seat next to you.
- Under the law, blind people can go wherever members of the public are invited to go. That means I have the right to go to ballgames, restaurants and amusement parks, ride in planes and trains, and stay in hotels. I won’t need a handicapped accessible room or other adaptations. I like to have fun like everyone else, although some of the methods I use may be a little different. When I go to a ballgame I like to tune in to a radio station so I can hear the play by play. In a museum I like to have things described to me and know if there are things I can touch. I have absolutely no desire to climb out of a moving roller coaster or other ride, so you don’t have to worry about my safety.
- If I’m eating in your restaurant, please show me to my table. I may want to take your arm or just walk behind you, but if I do that, please keep talking. I may need the server to read the menu to me if there isn’t a Braille one. Just review the sections and when I ask, tell me the menu items in that section. If I’m interested in something, I’ll ask you to read the listing to me, including the price. When you bring my food, you don’t have to tell me where each food item is; I can figure that out by myself. When you bring me the check, I’ll need you to read it to me and if I pay by credit card or charge it to my room, I’ll tell you what tip to add and have you show me where to sign.
- I need to keep my cash organized so I know which bills are which. When you give me change, tell me the denomination of each bill and its position such as,
The $10 is on top and the $5 is underneath it. If you do that, I can figure out which are the $1 bills. Don’t get impatient if I take a couple of seconds to put my money in order or fold the bills into shapes I can recognize later. I can identify coins by touch: they’re all different sizes, and the dimes and quarters have ridged edges.
- If you’re interviewing me for a job, treat me like any other job applicant. I’ll want to know about the essential functions of the job and how they’re usually performed. I say
usuallybecause I may need to use non-visual techniques, including computer speech or Braille, or I may use the same methods as everyone else. If you want to know how I’d do something, just ask; I’d rather answer a lot of questions than have you write me off because of my blindness.
- If I go to work for you, treat me like your other employees. Show me what I need to do, teach me what I need to know, and expect the same level of performance from me as you do from everyone else. If you’re handing out challenging assignments, make sure I get my fair share. If I need to use speech, Braille, or other forms of technology, please make sure I have complete access to your systems so I can do a competent job. Remember that I want to do a good job for you, so if I make mistakes, tell me what they are and what I need to do to correct them. And don’t assume that because I do well at my job, I want to stay in it forever. I’m willing to take some risks and want to be considered for advancement just like everyone else.
In summary, always keep in mind that you and I are alike in more ways than we are different. I’m a normal human being who just lacks the sense of sight, and I have the same kinds of interests as everyone else. Take the time to get to know me, and you’ll understand.